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Philanthropy A to Z

M – Main Streets

Text by Allyson Plessner

To grasp the spirit of an area, you often need not look further than its main street. The moniker is one that finds its way onto street signs across the country, and for good reason. A main street is a snapshot of a town—the eclectic tastes of a community in everything from fashion to food enmeshed together by bustling sidewalks and two lanes of traffic (or in some of the more charming locales, simply one). And if a town is especially vibrant, like so many on the Cape and Islands, then that main street becomes a hub of events, meetups between hometown friends, and other activities aimed at bringing a close-knit town all the more closer.

Behind all those cherished monthly street fairs or even ‘trash-free streets’ is often a nonprofit charged with maintaining the safety, cleanliness, and indeed, popularity, of a town’s precious Main Street. Take, for example, the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID). The BID works year-round behind the scenes to ensure continued improvement of Hyannis Main Street and the district as a whole. The BID is responsible for everything from Hyannis’ appointment as a cultural district to beloved annual events such as the Long Table, the Christmas Stroll, and the Summer Music Stroll. In fact, one might be surprised to know that there are over 1,000 BIDs—nonprofits funded by property owners across the district—in the U.S., but the Hyannis Main Street BID one of only seven in Massachusetts. Founded in 1999, it has been successful in providing a steady revenue stream to area businesses as well as maintaining a vital downtown community, the lifeblood of which is the main thoroughfare.

For those who have ever wondered at the almost seamless interconnectedness that tends to characterize the businesses along Falmouth Main Street, or at the well-produced holiday events that take place in Tisbury, well, there are nonprofits working behind the scenes in these locations as well. Similar to the Building Improvement District in Hyannis, these nonprofit associations are working toward the economic and cultural development of main streets in Falmouth and 

Osterville as well as on Martha’s Vineyard in Tisbury—to name just a few examples. In Falmouth, there’s the Falmouth Village Association; in Osterville, the Osterville Village Association which oversees the Osterville Business and Professionals Association; and in Tisbury, the Tisbury Business Association. 

At the forefront of these associations is often a mission to protect and support the commercial businesses that dot an area. As the Falmouth Village Association states, their objective is to work for the betterment of Falmouth Main Street in large part by providing “an atmosphere of vibrant commerce enhanced by commercial, social, and cultural events for all residents.” These associations become the collective voice of the many local businesses in government, and additionally, provide a forum for individual members to share their ideas, opportunities, and struggles. Beyond simply hosting events and social gatherings, main street associations build strong communities of businesses and residents alike, all in an effort to ensure the vitality and vibrancy of an area.

 While many events looked different this year, main streets across the region still got creative to make sure that visitors and locals could safely enjoy the splendors of town hubs. From “Movies Under the Stars” on the lawn of the Falmouth Public Library to virtual pumpkin carving in Hyannis, the nonprofits that work so tirelessly to keep the Cape & Islands fun and clean all year long came through once again despite many challenges. In areas like Falmouth and Hyannis, parts of the main streets closed down so local restaurants could invite diners to eat outside.

Across the region, nonprofits work behind the scenes to provide vibrant main streets (and beyond). From cultural events to commercial businesses to providing an area with a strong voice in legislative matters, there’s likely a nonprofit to thank.

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